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BizReport : Social Marketing : October 09, 2007

Kids and teens going virtual in large numbers

There’s a new way for marketers to reach kids and teens online – virtual worlds – and, unlike Second Life, these kid-friendly environments are attracting, and keeping, larger audiences.

by Helen Leggatt

Unlike Second Life, an adult virtual world, Webkinz and other virtual worlds for kids and teens immerse their members in a brand environment. From the moment a Webkinz plush toy is purchased the child is given access to a safe online environment containing educational, social and stimulating activities.

"Advertising is part of the overall experience in child- and teen-oriented virtual worlds," says Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst at eMarketer. "Unlike in Second Life, where marketers have built vast islands that avatars must visit to interact with the brand, advertising is part of the overall experience in virtual worlds for children and teens."

By combining offline sales with ever-changing online content the virtual world has attracted millions. comScore data from July this year shows both Webkins and Club Penguin attracted more than 5 million unique visitors each in that month. Nicktropolis had 2.2 million. That's quite a contrast to Second Life's number of visits in the same period - around 414,000.

All this and not a sign of any advertising. Apparently the buzz has been created purely by word-of-mouth.

As well as the initial cost of the plush toys, *along with an annual subscription fee of around $10, the Webkinz experience, aimed at 4 to 14 year olds, manages to continually extract small amounts of money, on a regular basis, by encouraging the purchase of game-play items such as charms, secret codes and even lip gloss. Without these items, costing anything from a couple of dollars, the children can’t progress in their virtual world or enter particular areas such as the salon or the charm forest.

According to a recent report by eMarketer, “Kids and Teens Online”, almost a quarter of the 34.3 million child and teen Internet users in the U.S. will frequent a virtual world this year. By 2011 that figure will rise to over half, with 53 percent going virtual.

*Edited: To clarify, it is incorrect that there is a yearly subscription fee. Instead, the adoption period for the Webkinz is limited to one year, after which you are required to purchase a new plush toy. So, much like a web subscription but well disguised. Thank you Karl of Webkinz for pointing this out.

Tags: children, teens, virtual world, Webkinz

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  • ellen

    You guts are horrible. letting kids go on a website without permission. i have a grate feeling that what happend, to my kid, i will sue your asses

  • Rita

    One can choose to purchase only one Webkinz a year and enjoy a world of fun for the purchase price of approximately $12.00. There is so much to do: decorating rooms, collecting rare items, practicing math skills, dressing the virtual pets, etc. Parents/kids can choose whether or not to spend more on charms, trading cards and other products. It is not necessary to do so to have a blast. This is from a Webkinz grandma who enjoys the site as much as my grandkids do. It is also great to play online kids with the grandchildren who live out of state.

  • Karl B.

    Your information about Webkinz is incorrect. There is no subscription fee for the site beyond the initial purchase of the plush toy.

    There is also only one area of the site - the Charm Forest - that can not be entered without the purchase on an ancillary product. To suggest that kids can not "progress in their virtual world" without the purchase of such items ignores the 15 areas, 40+ games, and thousands of items that can be enjoyed as part of every subscription.

    Karl B.

    Creative Director,




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